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Hyperion Records

CDA67308 - Bach: The Keyboard Concertos, Vol. 2
Hills and Ploughed Fields near Dresden by Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840)
Hamburger Kunsthalle, Germany / Bridgeman Art Library, London
CDA67308

Recording details: February 2005
Verbrugghen Hall, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Australia
Produced by Ludger Böckenhoff
Engineered by Ludger Böckenhoff
Release date: June 2005
Total duration: 75 minutes 20 seconds

GRAMOPHONE EDITOR'S CHOICE
CD OF THE MONTH (Gramophone Magazine)
CLASSICAL CD OF THE WEEK (The Sunday Times)
ALBUM OF THE WEEK (Musicweek)
CLASSICAL CD OF THE WEEK (The Daily Telegraph)
DISC OF THE MONTH (Classic FM Magazine)

'Hewitt's Bach is well-known for its expressive restraint, lucid textures and rhythmic grace. These virtues are abundantly present in her thoughtful, unmannered approach to the Concertos. Contrapuntal arguments are admirably clear and Hewitt's restricted use of the sustaining pedal ensures a pleasing clarity of dialogue. These virtues are mirrored by the lightly articulated bowing of the strings of the Australian Chamber Orchestra under the direction of its leader Richard Tognetti … my own prefernce lies just with Hewitt and her Australian musicians' (BBC Music Magazine)

'The familiar argument that Bach would have written for a piano if only he had had one is nowhere given more persuasive advocacy than in Hewitt's singing melodic lines, her judicious range of tonal colouring and in her touch, which combines the crispness and full flavour of a fresh apple. Take a bite of any of these concertos, and you will want to make a whole meal of them' (The Daily Telegraph)

'Her fingers dance as well as sing: in the outer movements, rhythms are buoyantly sprung, and this communicates itself to the members of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, whose slender string accompaniment in no way lessens their energy, while Hewitt responds by projecting the piano parts with all due attention to Bach's overall texture' (International Record Review)

'Here the Fazioli is heard at its exquisite best, its spongey bass chords pumping with clarity, its treble caressing a heart-tuggingly beautiful legato out of the slow movement, while the dainty strings sketch an almost tongue-in-cheek pizzicato in the background. Hewitt's sense of phrase is masterful … the statements have regal import under the authoritative hands of this queen of keyboard playing' (The Times)

'As always, she really sparkles in the allegros, infusing the music with wit as well as technical bravura' (The Sunday Times)

'The result of their historically informed modern-instrument take on the music is stunning, with crisp rhythms and singing melodic lines' (Classic FM Magazine)

'Hewitt's performances are brilliantly alive. Her subtle lyricism adds a rich, occasionally dark dimension, possibly not as Bach himself would have envisaged, but always with a deep sense of musical integrity' (The Scotsman)

'Her playing is absolutely captivating: she decorates the solo part with playful, come-hither ornamentation—twirls, flutters, arabesques—and yet it never disturbs the clear, logical path she forges through the course of each work. Her staccato touch has the force of sprung steel and yet her legato line is a miracle of smoothness and transparency. An absolute joy' (Metro)

'J'ai écouté plusieurs fois ces disques pour m'assurer que je n'étais pas victime d'un excès d'enthousiasme la première fois: à chaque reprise le plaisir n'a fait que croître' (ClassicsTodayFrance.com)

The Keyboard Concertos, Vol. 2
Allegro  [4'06]
Larghetto  [4'55]
[untitled]  [7'29]
Allegro  [2'37]
[untitled]  [8'02]
Siciliano  [4'43]
Allegro  [6'28]
Allegro  [3'28]
Adagio  [2'57]
Presto  [3'19]

Together with its companion Volume 1, these CDs contain all Bach’s extant concertos that feature a solo keyboard. Most were written in the 1730s and are thought to be arrangements of earlier concertos, many of which are now lost (though two will be recognized as Bach’s E major and A minor violin concertos and the sixth is an arrangement of the fourth Brandenburg). The fifth Brandenburg Concerto, with harpsichord, flute and violin soloists, dates from 1721 and is generally regarded as the first concerto for a solo keyboard instrument ever written. Bach made the keyboard part particularly brilliant and included a huge cadenza; he certainly knew how to establish a genre with a bang!

Hewitt’s Bach is by now self-recommending but only after playing Bach across the world with numerous ensembles did Angela decide that the Australian Chamber Orchestra were the perfect collaborators. After a month of concerts across Australia these recordings were set down in Sydney in February of this year and the frisson of artists operating at the peak of their form is clear for all to hear. One is immediately struck by the quality of chamber-music playing as phrases are passed from soloist to orchestra and, in the case of Brandenburg Concerto No 5 and the Triple Concerto, between all three soloists. Rhythms are buoyant, tempos lively, the spirit of dance is never far away in the fast movements and a perfectly vocal quality pervades the sung lines of the slow movements.

These CDs will surely be the jewels in the crown of Angela Hewitt’s magnificent Bach series.


When Johann Sebastian Bach left his post as Kapellmeister at the court of Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen in 1723 to go to the more prestigious city of Leipzig as Kantor of the Thomaskirche, he had no idea of the troubles that awaited him there. In Cöthen he had spent six very happy years composing mainly instrumental music, including the Brandenburg Concertos, the first volume of the Well-tempered Clavier, and the French Suites. He had, however, hesitated before accepting the new position, as the switch from Kapellmeister (director of music) to Kantor (director of church music) was a step downwards in status, but he knew that Leipzig would be a better place to educate his children. His first wife had died suddenly in 1720, leaving him with three sons and a daughter (three others, including twins, had died in infancy), but a year later he married Anna Magdalena Wilcken, a professional singer sixteen years his junior, and the mother-to-be of thirteen more Bachs. Although his income increased with the move to Leipzig, the high cost of living in that city made it difficult for such a large family. As part of his duties as Kantor and Director Musices, Bach was responsible for music at Leipzig’s four major churches and in the choir school, at the university, and on civic occasions. None of the authorities of these institutions appreciated Bach’s genius (one of them even dared to say that Bach showed ‘little inclination to work’), and their penny-pinching and narrow-mindedness were a constant source of annoyance.

It was therefore no doubt with great pleasure that Bach accepted, in 1729 at the age of forty-four, the post of director of the Collegium Musicum, a music society founded in 1702 at Leipzig University by Georg Philipp Telemann. It consisted of a talented group of music students that was probably augmented by professionals when needed. Their concerts were held in the popular surroundings of Zimmermann’s Coffee House, where people came together to smoke, drink and listen to pleasant music. In summer, they played outdoors. Surely it was especially crowded during the spring and fall when Leipzig played host to many foreign merchants who came for the fairs. These informal concerts must have been a happy contrast for Bach to the endless problems at the Thomaskirche. He remained director for the next ten years, composing many secular instrumental works during this time. After that time was up, he turned his attention towards composing his ‘summation works’: the B minor Mass, the ‘Goldberg’ Variations, the Musical Offering, and the Art of Fugue.

The seven keyboard concertos were composed during the final years of his directorship of the Collegium Musicum, although many exist in other forms that probably originated in Cöthen. Before 1710, Bach had copied out works in concerto form by both Albinoni and Telemann (his favourite way to learn new things), and during the next few years adapted concertos by Vivaldi, Torelli, Marcello and others. It is not known whether he composed his own concertos during his stay in Weimar (1708–1717), although the Preludes to the English Suites show to what extent he had absorbed the Italian concerto style. His first known works in this genre are the famous Brandenburg Concertos, dating from 1721. They were written in Cöthen, and presented to the Margrave of Brandenburg, Christian Ludwig, from whom Bach was possibly seeking employment. The Margrave left them to gather dust, but, fortunately for us, they were picked up at his death in 1734 by Bach’s pupil, Kirnberger.

It is said that if we sat down and copied out all of the music Bach wrote it would take us a lifetime. Yet he was composing it as well. So it is no wonder that from time to time he borrowed from himself. Such is the case with the keyboard concertos. If an original version has not been handed down to us (for instance, the A minor Violin Concerto became the G minor Keyboard Concerto; the E major Violin Concerto was turned into the D major Keyboard Concerto; and so on), then there probably was one but it has been lost. Concerto movements also ended up in cantatas, often with florid parts being added to an already busy original. This recycling is one of the arguments I use to defend the performance of Bach on the modern piano. If he could write for violin, oboe or voice a singing, melodic line that would have its natural inflections, phrasing, and rise and fall, then why would he not have wanted to hear it on a keyboard instrument that was capable of doing the same thing (since the harpsichord could not)?

The Concerto No 4 in A major, BWV1055 is probably based on a lost concerto for oboe d’amore (indeed it is often heard these days on that instrument). It opens with a high-spirited Allegro which adopts the essential feature of the concerto grosso – the opposition between tutti and soli passages. It is followed by a beautiful Larghetto in F sharp minor, in the tempo of a siciliano, thus bearing a slight resemblance to the slow movement of the E major concerto. The final Allegro ma non tanto is the most delicate last movement of the seven concertos. This lilting, menuet-like movement has immense grace, although its opening theme is not without bravura.

The Concerto No 3 in D major, BWV1054 will be immediately recognizable as a transcription of the Violin Concerto in E major, BWV1042. The key change was to enable it to be played on the harpsichord where the highest note was D. It is a marvellous example of how the instrumentation in Bach’s music is often secondary to the music itself. The violin part is taken over by the right hand and frequently embellished, while the left hand reinforces the bass part, occasionally adding an extra flourish itself. The Adagio is similar to the great slow movement of the D minor Keyboard Concerto in its intensity and expressiveness. The change to D major from B minor after a slight pause in the middle of the movement is magical. The closing rondo is a dance in 3/8 time which can’t fail to lighten our spirits. I am always talking about the dance rhythms in Bach’s music and how they give it such great vitality, and this is an excellent example. The four episodes, each gaining in virtuosity, give the soloist a chance to shine.

The Concerto No 2 in E major, BWV1053 is not often played, no doubt because of its complexity, especially in the tricky solo part. The first movement opens cheerfully and optimistically, but gets more complicated and daring as it progresses. The brilliance of E major is offset by a lovely dolce quality to much of the material. The second movement, marked Siciliano, is extremely daring in its harmonic progressions and written-out ornamentation in the solo part. Bach used these first two movements in the Cantata BWV169, Gott soll allein mein Herze haben (‘God all alone my heart shall master’). Once more he surprises us by adding a line for solo voice along with the already florid keyboard part of the second movement (‘Stirb in mir, Welt’/‘Die in me, world’). In the closing Allegro, as in all of these works, the soloist doesn’t get a rest for a second, being busy elaborating on the themes and ultimately holding it all together. Bach also recycled this movement in the Cantata BWV49, Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen (‘I go and search for thee with longing’), in which he scored it for organ and strings.

The Concerto No 5 in F minor, BWV1056 is the shortest of the keyboard concertos but one of the most popular, thanks to its beautiful Adagio. Bach also used this movement as the introductory Sinfonia to the Cantata BWV156, Ich steh’ mit einem Fuß im Grabe (‘I stand with one foot in the grave’), where the melody is given to the oboe. Presented over a pizzicato accompaniment, it is short, simple, and serenely beautiful and moving. If ever one needs evidence to show how Bach could make the keyboard sing, this is it. The outer movements are concise and very energetic, and most likely had another life as a violin concerto.

Another bit of clever recycling resulted in the creation of the Concerto No 6 in F major, BWV1057. You can be forgiven if you don’t immediately recognize it as the Brandenburg Concerto No 4 in G major, BWV1049; the tunes will be familiar, but the scoring is not. The original concerto has two solo flutes, and they remain in this version, but the addition of a solo keyboard part (largely replacing the solo violin) is a novelty. It is not really a true solo concerto, as the keyboard shares the limelight with the flutes, but it nevertheless demands a very advanced technique, especially in the make-or-break outbursts of the finale. The slow movement, marked Andante, is a processional, making great use of echo effects between orchestra and keyboard. The finale shows how effortlessly Bach combined both fugal and concerto forms, with the opening entries of the subject followed by brilliant episodes for the three soloists. The joy and virtuosity that we find in the last movement of the Italian Concerto, BWV971 (also in F major) are much in evidence here.

Angela Hewitt © 2005


Other albums in this series
'Bach Arrangements' (CDA67309)
Bach Arrangements
'Bach: Toccatas' (CDA67310)
Bach: Toccatas
'Bach: The English Suites' (CDA67451/2)
Bach: The English Suites
'Bach: Fantasia, Aria & other works' (CDA67499)
Bach: Fantasia, Aria & other works
MP3 £7.99FLAC £7.99ALAC £7.99Buy by post £13.99 (ARCHIVE SERVICE) CDA67499  Archive Service; also available on CDS44421/35  
'Bach: Keyboard Concertos' (CDA67607/8)
Bach: Keyboard Concertos
'Bach: The Well-tempered Clavier' (CDA67741/4)
Bach: The Well-tempered Clavier
MP3 £23.99FLAC £23.99ALAC £23.99Buy by post £30.00 Studio Master: FLAC 24-bit 44.1 kHz £27.00ALAC 24-bit 44.1 kHz £27.00 CDA67741/4  4CDs for the price of 3   Studio Master FLAC & ALAC downloads available
'Bach: The Well-tempered Clavier' (CDS44291/4)
Bach: The Well-tempered Clavier
MP3 £20.00FLAC £20.00ALAC £20.00Buy by post £22.00 CDS44291/4  4CDs Boxed set (at a special price)  
'Bach: Angela Hewitt plays Bach' (CDS44421/35)
Bach: Angela Hewitt plays Bach
MP3 £45.00FLAC £45.00ALAC £45.00Buy by post £50.00 CDS44421/35  15CDs Boxed set (at a special price)  
'Angela Hewitt – Bach Performance on the Piano' (DVDA68001)
Angela Hewitt – Bach Performance on the Piano
Buy by post £16.00 This album is not yet available for download DVDA68001  2CDs DVD  
'Bach: The Inventions' (CDA66746)
Bach: The Inventions
'Bach: The French Suites' (CDA67121/2)
Bach: The French Suites
'Bach: The Six Partitas' (CDA67191/2)
Bach: The Six Partitas
'Bach: Goldberg Variations' (CDA67305)
Bach: Goldberg Variations
'Bach: Italian Concerto & French Overture' (CDA67306)
Bach: Italian Concerto & French Overture
'Bach: The Keyboard Concertos, Vol. 1' (CDA67307)
Bach: The Keyboard Concertos, Vol. 1
'Bach: The Well-tempered Clavier, Vol. 1' (CDA67301/2)
Bach: The Well-tempered Clavier, Vol. 1
MP3 £10.85FLAC £10.85ALAC £10.85Buy by post £20.00 CDA67301/2  2CDs   Download currently discounted
'Bach: The Well-tempered Clavier, Vol. 2' (CDA67303/4)
Bach: The Well-tempered Clavier, Vol. 2
MP3 £7.75FLAC £7.75ALAC £7.75Buy by post £20.00 CDA67303/4  2CDs   Download currently discounted
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